Mani?s man cooking up a Bollywood storm

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By After four films with Mani Ratnam, R. MADHAVAN is poised for his third Hindi release, this time as a bawarchi. Pratim D. Gupta caught the “Shah Rukh of the South” in the kitchen on a breeze through Calcutta
  • Published 1.09.05
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Calcutta must not be new to you, having been born and brought up in Jamshedpur...

Not at all. The first 20 years of my life in Jamshedpur, I used to keep coming to Calcutta, specially in and around Park Street. Also, I shot here for the TV show Tol Mol Ke Bol and a south Indian film Jay Jay.

Why did you desert Bollywood for all these years?

(Laughs) I was just preparing to be in Bollywood. I do not want a release every third month. Thanks to God, things are going very well down south. I do not want to clutter it up completely with releases. I am not looking for big subjects and big releases.

Were you happy with your first outing in Mumbai ? Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein and Dil Vil Pyar Vyar?

To be honest with you, I would have been far happier if Rehnaa Hai Tere Dil Mein was a box-office hit. Going by the response, appreciation and acceptability there?s no doubt that it was an iconic film. In fact, it has been shown exactly 116 times on television, perhaps the only film to complete 100 days on TV. The music is still on the charts. People in London sing Sach keh raha hai deewana when I shoot there. Women in burkhas in Oman sing Zara zara when I go there.

So what made you choose Ramji Londonwaley as your return vehicle to Bollywood?

See, knowing the warm response I received in Rehnaa? I knew that the next time I came on the Bollywood big screen, the story had to be unique. And I had done the original of Ramji Londonwaley in the south. So we came up with the idea of a Hindi version. I want people to remember me and my character whenever they think of a certain film and Ramji Londonwaley is just that.

You had said you hated doing the same film twice when Minnale was remade as Rehnaa? So how come you agreed to do another remake?

The difference between Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein and Ramji Londonwaley is Rehnaa? was an out-and-out remake, scene-by-scene, with the same director, while Ramji? is an adaptation of the original (Nala Damayanthi) with a different setting and a different city. That makes the Hindi version completely different. The problem with a remake is that you are constantly trying to recreate the same magic of the original film. But when you reinterpret it, it becomes a new film altogether.

nYou have also written the dialogues for the film...

Yes, it?s my first time in that department. When the Hindi script was being written I thought I would be able to put in my ideas at that level. So in that way Ramji Londonwale is an acid test of me the writer (laughs).

You are so popular in the south and have your niche following in Bollywood too. How do you balance the two lives?

I am a lucky guy. I can do a film when I want to and where I want to. The two languages are there to choose from. It?s not that I have to do one film in the south and then one film in Mumbai and then back again. I want to do one fantastic film at a time. So, after Ramji if there?s another Hindi film whose script I like, I?ll plunge into it rightaway.

I am sure you are asked this every time but how does it feel to be Mani Ratnam?s chosen actor?

But I never get tired of answering that question. It?s truly flattering to be picked by Mani Ratnam for four of his films as the main lead. It?s a huge honour in itself and easily my biggest achievement. And let me tell you all of those four characters were drastically different from each other. That someone of the calibre of Mani Ratnam found me competent enough to carry out those four roles is a lifetime achievement for me.

You?re now the ?Shah Rukh of the South??

(Laughs) Previously they called me the ?Hrithik of the South?. Now they?re calling me the ?Shah Rukh of the South?.

What next? The ?Bachchan of the South??

(Laughs) No, no. I don?t think anybody can ever take the place of people like Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan but if anything I would like to be known as the ?Madhavan of the South?.

Finally, congratulations on becoming a father. Do you think he will be lucky for your new release?

Thanks. But I would not want to associate luck or the lack of it with the birth of my son. I think my son has been the luckiest thing of my life. As for my film and my career, I will take care of that on my own.